Roberts Elementary School fourth-grade teacher LaTasha Owens’
first social studies lesson of the new school year included an educational
video about the three branches of government, shared on Microsoft Teams.
Owens called on students to share their thoughts about what
they were watching. The children appeared onscreen as they unmuted themselves. Each
was accessing the class from a private residence, some of them wearing headphones
and some of them sitting in large office chairs.
This example of leveraging technology to ensure her students learn without jeopardizing the health and safety of all involved was replicated across the district on Tuesday.
HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan embarked on a
whirlwind tour of the district on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of students,
educators, parents, and staff began the first day of the 2020-2021 school year
virtually with a charge to Reconnect Safely and Return Strong.
Lathan spent the day making in-person and virtual visits
to campuses and online classrooms to speak with students, parents, and teachers
encouraging them as they began, calling the 2020-2021 school year the
district’s Year of Flexibility.
“We are very excited for today because March was the last
time many of us saw our students,” she said before the start of the
districtwide tour. “The first day of school certainly looks different this
year, however, I remain optimistic that with continued determination,
resilience, and flexibility, 2020-21 can be our best year yet.”
In preparation for the
upcoming school year, HISD parents began lining up at Northline Elementary
School early to receive technology that will help when online classes begin
daughter Mila, a rising fourth-grader at Northline, received a Chromebook that
she is excited to start using. Villafuerte says she’s relieved the district is
making technology available to students during this challenging time.
“I really appreciate
that they have tried to accommodate as many families as they have,” she said. I
am still concerned about schools opening in October, so if we can continue with
online learning, we would like to take that approach, and this makes that
possible for us.”
Varona, a rising ninth-grader from DeBakey High School for Health Professions,
has dreams of pursuing a career in science, and after one week at HISD’s
all-virtual Camp Spark, those dreams are stronger than ever.
“One day, I
have dreams of creating medicine that will help people,” he said. “Camp Spark
has really encouraged me to pursue those dreams.”
The two-week camp, which is offered to students in
grades pre-K through 12 and provided at no cost, is designed to get students re-engaged as the district prepares
for online learning, and provides online lessons that focus on physical
fitness, science, literacy, math, internet safety, technology and art.
HISD’s Welch Middle School sparked to life for a few hours
on Saturday as parents and students drove through to pick up school supplies
during the 13th Annual Karen Johnson Back to School Bash.
This year’s event – hosted by the mother of retired Texans
wide receiver Andre Johnson – had to be narrowed down to a Drive Thru Backpack
Giveaway in accordance of COVID-19 physical distancing and safety measures. Nevertheless,
cars filled with excited parents and students lined up as items were loaded
into their trunks.
“Kids need their supplies for school, and some kids might be
embarrassed to ask for a pencil, or a pen or a notebook,” Karen Johnson said.
“We started in 2007 at Hobby Elementary and now, for the first time, we have
partnered with Welch Middle School. So hopefully we will be able to keep this
going for years to come.”
Students at HISD’s Edison Middle School and Yates High
School will receive innovative technological instruction through the Microsoft
Imagine Academy as part of the company’s partnership with the City of Houston
to stimulate digital literacy in economically disadvantaged communities.
Edison Middle School and Yates High School students will
receive virtual instruction in coding, IT infrastructure, data science, and
attend virtual Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) camps. High
school students will also receive training in Artificial Intelligence, modern
workplace tools and office productivity in preparation for earning
“This is an incredible opportunity for students at Edison
and Yates, who will gain the tools and knowledge they need to close high-tech
skills gaps,” HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said. “Participating
in the Microsoft Imagine Academy has the potential to be a game-changer for our
middle and high school students.”
Surrounded by the bright orange and white
colors of the Houston Dynamo, HISD Interim Superintendent Lathan led the
unveiling on Tuesday of the district’s first-ever, all-virtual academic
Camp Spark, which kicks off on Monday,
Aug. 24, launched with a live socially distant celebration at Houston’s BBVA
Compass Stadium. The virtual camp, which is designed to get students re-engaged
as the district prepares for online learning, will provide lessons that focus on physical fitness, science, literacy,
math, internet safety, technology and art.
New ninth-graders will take part
in a boot camp to prepare them for high school while 10th- through
12th-graders will participate in a College and Career Readiness
As the 2020-21 school year approaches, HISD’s Project
Explore is preparing to meet the needs of students across the district with an
array of virtual college and career readiness programs.
Project Explore, which connects middle school students to
college and career opportunities, is planning a variety of virtual expeditions
to introduce middle school students to the skills needed for secondary,
postsecondary, and career success, including virtual college campus visits and
“The Project Explore team is up for the challenge,” Project
Explore Director Mia Bradford said. “Our advisors will continue to offer the
most meaningful experiences possible to keep students engaged and forge
connections with career and postsecondary professionals.”
HISD’s Special Populations department will host a series of
Parent Labs in August and September to assist parents who have students in any
special populations program with navigating virtual learning for the 2020-2021
The Parent Labs will proactively engage and support parents with
programs such as autism, dyslexia, speech/language, 504, intellectually
disabled, and gifted & talented. There will be up to 20 sessions available by
disability area or special population group and will be accessible via live or
recorded formats. There also will be sessions available in Spanish.
“As we embark on a school year like no other, we know that
extra supports for parents and students are vital as we navigate a more virtual
approach to learning,” said HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan. “These
live interactive sessions are designed to inform, engage and empower our HISD parent
community for the coming school year.”
The Houston Independent
School District Board of Education approved a $54.6 million amendment to the
2020-2021 budget, which includes a $31 million purchase of devices and wireless
hotspots to help close the digital divide and ensure students are equipped to Reconnect Safely and Return Strong when classes resume virtually on Sept. 8.
The district has provided
76,362 devices for students in need since the pandemic and plans to distribute
22,750 additional devices by next month. HISD has provided 6,628 hotspots for
students in need and plans to distribute an additional 19,151 of the wireless
devices by next month as well.
The added appropriations in
the budget amendment will also fund additional special education positions,
personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing signage, plexiglass
dividers, and instructional supports.